How does ISIL make money?

ISIL, originally an offshoot of al-Qaeda kicked out for being too extreme, is probably the richest terrorist organisation in history. So how do they make all that money?

Originally heavily financed by donors (particularly from the Gulf), some of whom called for the group to withdraw from Syria in 2014, ISIL now have more than an estimated $2 billion in reserves. They have their own bank and even a mint where they produce their own currency. However, as the organisation grows, donations may begin to dry up as donors have less say about how the organisation should be acting.

Oil, loans and tax

ISIL are estimated to earn over $1 million per day through oil sales alone with rumoured buyers including Turkey, Russia, the Assad regime and, surprisingly, rebel groups opposed to ISIL forced to buy oil from them as they have no alternative. They sell the oil for $20-$40 a barrel.

Fighters heading to Syria to join ISIL are reportedly taking out loans to be able to fund the trip, according to the independent, and the UK government has stated there is a threat of terrorist organisations using the banking sector for their own gains, however the amount of money raised this way seems to be low.

With ISIL are in charge in parts of Syria and Iraq, they are able to collect revenue via a way not open to most other terror organisations: taxation. They provide basic services (including a bus route) and have their own judicial system. As well as taxing locals, they have also imposed a jizya tax against Christians, which allows them to live in the area without being forced to convert to Islam. While other groups have declared wanting to form a jihadist state, ISIL are actually trying to achieve this.

Ransom demands are also a lucrative source of income for the group. Even though the UK and USA have strict policies of not paying ransoms, other countries have paid to get their citizens back, providing ISIL with millions.


According to Mosul Eye, a source that is accounting what life is like for people in Mosul, Iraq, ISIL are also charging relatives of people sentenced to death a fee for bail, and when the person is executed they are charging another fee to release the body. The fees include:

– A person on death row for being a police officer must pay $1000 – $2000, the cost of a gun. After the execution, the family must pay 2 million Iraqi Dinars (roughly £1100) to receive the body, and if they fail to pay, ISIS dumps the body at an unknown place.

– A person on death row convicted of spying must pay $3000 prior to his execution. The family must pay $2000 to receive his body.

– A person on death row convicted of apostasy must pay $2500 pre-execution, and family must pay $1000 to receive his body.

– A Muslim on death row for violating a “Hadd” (a restriction set by Sharia Law, which the person remain Muslim but ISIS still sentence him to death) pays $750 prior to his execution, and family pays $500 to receive his body.

– The detainees who are convicted with charges other than apostasy (abandoning or renouncing a religious or political belief) and spying must pay $300 registration and interrogation fees, and $250 after they are released (detention fees), and it varies depending on how long the person is detained.

– Everyone is sentenced to be lashed must pay $150 interrogation and sentence execution fees, and pays $50 detention fees for one day and registration at ISIS’ Alhisba criminal records.*


In recent months the destruction of ancient artifacts made headlines around the world as ISIL released videos of several sites being destroyed. However UNESCO have warned that ISIL are also looting artifacts and antiques on a massive scale and allegedly smuggling them to London to be sold.

The group also commit bank robberies and have stolen millions of dollars from government vaults; robbery and looting is also how they have gained some of their weapons.

With so many channels for ISIL to make money, it might look like the group is growing stronger; but some of these undertakings point to a slight weakening of the group, and could even hint at them becoming desperate for money by any means.

*Published with approval from Mosul Eye